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Full text of "A history of Persia"

LIV                 PERSIAN LITERATURE               137
Omar Khayyam.—Omar Khayyam, or the "Tent
Maker," is the best known of Persian poets in England
and America, owing to the genius of FitzGerald,1 indeed
it has been calculated that more than ninety per cent of
the ladies who enter the Oriental Library at the British
Museum ask some question about the bard of Nishapur.
But if his name is brought up among Persians they will
reply, "Omar Khayyam was a philosopher and an
astronomer." In other words, he is famous in Persia
as a philosopher and for his labours in connexion with
the Jalali era, referred to in Chapter LIL, and his reputa-
tion does not in any way rest on his quatrains.2
As already mentioned, he was a friend and, according
to one account, school-fellow of the Nizam-ul-Mulk, who
granted him a pension. The oldest account we possess
of him is in the Chahar Makala of Nizami-al-Arudi, in
the section, it is to be noted, wjiich treats of astrologers
and astronomers. Here is given the original story of
the poet's saying : " My grave will be in a spot where
the trees will shed their blossoms on me twice a year."
Nizami states that in A.H. 530 (1135) he visited the
tomb of the deceased Omar, " seeing that he had the
claim of a master on me ... and his tomb lay at the foot
of a garden-wall, over which pear-trees and peach-trees
thrust their heads, and on his grave had fallen so many
flower-leaves that his dust was hidden beneath the flowers."
This disposes of the mistaken idea that Omar was buried
beneath a rose-bush. On the dry Iranian plateau, where
nature is scanty in her gifts, the truly beautiful peach
and pear and other fruit blossoms play a far larger part
than in rainy England, where vegetation is so rich and
luxuriant.
I have twice passed through Nishapur and on each
1  Co well wrote :   "FitzGerald's translation is so infinitely finer than the original
that the value of the latter is such mainly as attaches to Chaucer's or Shakespeare's
prototypes."    This may seem to be an exaggeration, but in my humble opinion it is
true.
2  Sir Mortimer Durand once visited the late Shah Nasir-u-Din to proffer a request
from the Omar Khayyam Club that the tomb of the poet should be repaired.   The
Shah was astonished and said, " Do you mean to tell me that there is a club connected
with Omar Khayyam ?    Why, he has been dead for a thousand years.   We have had a
great many better poets in Persia than Omar Khayyam, and indeed I myself-------" and
then he stopped.